The Whale (Majo,2005)

I ride the back of a massive whale
Called luck
Or chance
Or the convergence of the spheres
Or “Just coincidence, you dreamer, you”.

When my son was 12,
I told him that God winked at us
When things converged
He thought me more goofy then
Than even I was wont to be.
Today he says it back to me.

I worked as a gasoline station cashier
I played with numbers all day long
They winked at me many times a day.
My boss and I talked of what life was like
In the 70’s in the good old USA
As we talk, this woman writes her check
For her gas and cigarettes combined
It comes to 19 dollars and 70 cents –
Why?

This girl says her birthday is today
She’s 29 years old
Her several purchases add up
To twenty-nine dollars on the head.
What kind of dance is this
This rhythm of the spheres?

At my fav place to fill my tank
My charge for gas is thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents
The cashier there knows my numbers thing
And is less enrapt with the synchronicities of life
“Boring number this time, hon.”
Next stop the food co-op
My total there thirty dollars and thirty-nine cents.

This whale
Which dwells so far below
The waves which toss our human lives
Has breeched
It takes my breath away
While my mind sees but an empty sea

This is the first or second grade
Of the “everything thing in synch” elementary school
But fun and helps me pass the time
And, in their so-light ways
These connections
Dare me to still believe
This world is chaos, just
The senseless random bounce
Of the billiard balls of life.

Why is this old song
On the radio at this just perfect time?
Or, coming ‘round that bend
Why is this perfect person there?
Is everything connected?
Do my five senses know
How to perceive beyond
The seeming separateness of things?

This sixth sense – sleeping most the time
Sees the web, the one tapestry of life
Can see what’s next
Because it’s all there at once
All the time.

Could it be
No matter what I think of you
Or my gripes that you
Are even here at all
That you were always meant to be right here
Right this moment, now?

If I dive deep
Engage with you more full
It might get clear
The wink you have for me
And I for you

If some events synch up like this
How can I make this happen more
Here in Asheville, where these things go on
Faster and much more than in the normal world?

What if the secret is
That it’s not for me to do it all
That I may not do anything?
This freeze-frame
Where all seems one
May really mean that all is one
There are no actors
Or those they act upon.

There is just life
Dancing its dance
Dancing us
Even when we just sit and watch.

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In and out of my head on the dance floor

The last post described my Friday dance a week ago.  Here I’m describing last night.

Last night I went to dance even though I was tired and had been depressed for over a week.  I had had a better day and thought I might not be depressed any more, so wanted to give it a try.

And, in fact, I wasn’t depressed.  But I wasn’t having fun.  I was not depressed, but also not high.  I miss being high – I feel so great.  But I think this in between state is way better.  I’ll write about it in my next post.

I love being up, but this state with some up and some down is way better for me.

I love being up, but this state with some up and some down is way better for me.

I wasn’t having fun – was barely dancing.  I thought about leaving – at one point kind of resigned myself that I would probably leave.  But I knew that I wasn’t depressed – and that’s when I leave.  I wasn’t having fun because I was in my head, thinking – thinking about myself, thinking about my day, thinking about dancing – and that was a not fun place to be.

I realized that this was a great chance to practice getting out of my head and into my body.  “For four out of the last five days I have been locked behind a cash register.  Look how much room I have to move here.  My feet hurt, but it’s still fun to move all round, fill the space.  And there are these great playmates encouraging me to move free by the creative ways they are moving.”

I clapped my hands all over my body, to remind myself that it was there.  It’s mostly a non-verbal practice, this dance, but two times i went up to good buddies and said, “I have a body” – and bumped up against them to emphasize it.

There was a new woman there who was very attractive.  I danced into her zone (she mostly stayed in the same place) and found how it energized me – how it got me out of my head and into my body.  I was shy with this new person and didn’t initiate to dance with her – and actually think it’s usually better to give a new person lots of room to move before trying to dance with them – but I still found it stimulating to have her in the room and to dance near her.  At one point she danced around me and even bumped into me.  I looked for eye contact that might indicate she was doing this intentionally.   I didn’t see any, so didn’t follow up, but it still lit me up.

Tom and I have a multifaceted relationship: we were roommates for two years, we work together at the grocery store, we do Interplay (improvisational movement, storytelling and song) together – and we dance together (at the same dances).  And we usually do dance together – like really together – more than once over the course of a dance.  He likes engaged dancing probably even more than me and he frequently initiates towards me – and I like that.

Tom and I sometimes do contact improv dancing as we pass each other in the store aisles.  It's mostly pretty minimal, but it brings the world of dance into the world of work and kind of lights things up.

Tom and I sometimes do contact improv dancing as we pass each other in the store aisles. It’s mostly pretty minimal, but it brings the world of dance into the world of work and kind of lights things up.

He also takes a stance for the value of me staying on the dance floor when i feel like i have to leave – and likes to do what he can to keep me there.  We typically dance rough and energetic – it really gets me into the room, into my body.  This helped a lot last night.

Solon came in late and wrapped me up in a big  bear hug.  He frequently says he loves me when he sees me.  He didn’t say it tonight, but I felt it.  I felt better about myself from his presence in the room.

I succeeded only some of the time at getting into my body – I was in and out of my head.  But getting out of my head is big work for me – it’s going to be my work for a long time, maybe forever.  And I was neither manic nor depressed and that’s good stuff for me.

Dancing back to life

Sometimes dance saves my aliveness.

Sometimes when my spirit seems dead, dance brings it back to life.

Sometimes when my spirit seems dead, dance brings it back to life.

Including today, I have worked eight-hour shifts the last three days – eight hours of standing in front of a cash register.  By the time I left the store today (2/13), my body was frozen and my feet were burning.

Yes I'm smiling - but my feet are killing me.

Yes I’m smiling – but my feet are killing me.

(Tae Kwon Do last night helped a lot to loosen me up, but the frozenness set back in today.)  I was badly in need of my regular Friday night dance, but I was in the kind of depressed state where it tends not to work for me.  I am too frozen to move, too self-critical to engage people, too judgmental to improvise.

The dance I do is free-form improvisational dancing inspired by the 5 Rhythms dance work created by Gabrielle Roth.  On a good (high) day I have a total blast on the dance floor: I am free, energized, spontaneous – and especially groove on jamming with other people.  We may dance all around each other, in and out of each other’s space, maybe (or maybe not) sometimes touching each other – or we may do “contact improv”, improvisational dance with more extensive touch.  On a good day, I’m really good at this kind of engaged dance – I know how to connect with people in my life and I know how to connect with people on the dance floor.

Contact improv can get pretty athletic, but not for this 68 year old dancer.  It can also be finger-to-finger.  i explore that end of the continuum and some of the mid-zone.

Contact improv can get pretty athletic, but not for this 68-year-old dancer. It can also be finger-to-finger. I explore that end of the continuum and some of the mid-zone.

When I’m down, I’m so terrible at moving and connecting that frequently it seems like the only viable option is to leave the dance.  And I do, often.  Or sometimes I just don’t go to the dance at all: when I’m in the kind of depressed state where I typically leave, it seems more kind to myself to save myself that kind of painful failure experience.  I’ve been telling myself that Tae Kwon Do can help me develop more discipline to go and stay regardless of how I feel.  So after work today (6:20), I decided to go to the 7 o’clock dance, then decided not to go, then got really sad at letting it go and decided again to go.  “Even though I’m in the kind of mood where dance doesn’t work for me, I want to go and try.”

I implemented a strategy that has evolved for me over the last many months, but I have never used so aggressively.  Before the dance, I caught several of my best dance friends and said one version or another of, “I’m in one of those moods which you know in me – moods where my body won’t move and I feel disconnected from everybody.  I’m at risk of leaving.  The thing that most keeps me here in this state is connecting with my people on the dance floor.  I may come by you and reach out to dance with you and  if it works for you right then that would be great.” (There is a very strong priority in this group to honor people’s space when they do not want to dance with you – and to learn to not take this personal.)  “And I may totally stall out and not be able to reach out to you.  If you see me in that state, it would be awesome if you were to reach out to me.”

And it worked, enough.  I initiated to my friends and that worked some of the time.  I had a couple of segments where I was on the ropes, feeling like I probably had to leave – and someone came by and danced with me.

I didn’t get high – and I miss that.  But I more and more believe that I’m better off not getting high.  I had a good time – interspersed with not good times.  Connection connected to separation.  Happy and not.  Human.

I’m glad I went.  I’m hoping that Tae Kwon Do increases my strength around going to and staying at dance.  I hope I will remember to ask for help when I need it.  I hope I will remember this evening when I asked for help and got it.

Seeing stars

Back in 1995, James Redfield’s book The Celestine Prophecy was a monster best seller.  I was a little suspicious of a “spiritual” book that was so commercially successful, but I kind of surprised myself by liking it quite a lot.

On the surface, the book is a novel – but actually the story, which is not the strongest aspect of the book, is a vehicle for spiritual teaching.  It did not seem to me that much of that teaching was original, but then how much spiritual teaching really can be original at this point – it’s really a matter of packaging old truths in fresh new ways that get our attention.  I think Redfield did a good job at that.

A couple of concepts from this 20 year old book have stayed with me.

A couple of concepts from this 20 year old book have stayed with me.

The idea from that book that has most stayed with me suggests that when you are having an encounter with another person, if you stick with the encounter long enough – often longer than is comfortable or beyond the point where you might otherwise have moved on – the purpose of your encounter with this person will often become manifest.  I have this experience a lot at work – and will devote tomorrow’s post to that arena.  Here I want to report three experiences I had tonight at the Jubilee (the funky non-denominational church I attend here in Asheville) Christmas party.

Edna is a very engaging, attractive, 5’4″ woman who told me that she had just recently celebrated her 62nd birthday.  I felt a little victorious connecting with her tonight because I remembered her name: over several years of being nodding acquaintances, I succeed at that only some of the time.  When I found myself standing next to her in the lovely hallway of the beautifully rehabbed Elizabethan mansion that our minister Howard reclaimed from disrepair over many years, I decided it might be a good time to get to know her a little – she has always seemed interesting, so I was enthused about this.  But when I’m manic – which I still am after ten days (it’s time when I usually will shift) – I tend to be restless, and after a few minutes of talking (even though it was all genuinely interesting) I was starting to think of some of the other people at the party that I wanted to connect with.  So when Edna said, “I have a story about my 62nd birthday that I could tell you if you want”, I had to think for a moment about whether I actually did want.

But the Redfield idea has been on my mind lately, and I decided to settle in and see what I might learn about my connection with Edna.  She proceeded to tell a gorgeous story about being out of her comfort zone camping in the western mountains at her son’s land, of waking at 2 a..m. on her birthday and coming out of the tent into the cold mountain air and having her mind blown by the brightness of the Milky Way.  The story goes on to have her wishing she could share this amazing moment with someone and her son promptly calling out to her and then coming out to join her – and a really gorgeous mother-son moment ensuing.  My eyes were moist by the end of the story and I had at least a first take on why we were meant to have that conversation. (Who knows what other layers may present themselves for me or her?  Writing this blog post is one more layer for me.)

The Milky Way in the mountains at 2 a.m. on her birthday blew Edna's mind.  Her story opened mine.

The Milky Way in the mountains at 2 a.m. on her birthday blew Edna’s mind. Her story opened mine.

A couple of brief conversations later, I encountered Matt – a big strapping 40ish guy who started our conversation by saying how much he likes the poetry and comedy I offer at Jubilee.  (I have done this four times a year for ten years and lots of people know me from it.)  After thanking him for the compliment – and being genuinely pleased by it, though I do get it a lot – I attempted to move the conversation along by asking “How long have you been coming to Jubilee?”  Even before the question was fully out of my mouth, I thought “Now what kind of a bullshit question is that?”  It’s like “Do you come here often?” in being destined to not generate any interesting answers.

But after he said “Six years” (“Yeah, so what?”) I had a better idea.  “In those six years, what have been some highlights for you of coming to Jubilee?”  Now Matt really warmed up to the conversation.  “The music and Howard’s talks.”  When I followed that with “What have you liked about Howard’s talks?” we were off and running.  Matt had lots to say – stuff that revealed his depth and sensitivity and passion about Jubilee.  It was great fun.

Jubilee is a special place.  Getting Matt talking about it revealed how special he is.

Jubilee is a special place. Getting Matt talking about it revealed how special he is.

My final conversation was with Victoria.  I had just a little bit started to get to know her several years ago, but she moved away and hasn’t been around much.  She always seemed interesting, though, so when I ended up standing next to her I felt good about talking with her.  But still, after just a couple minutes of talking, I noticed my body language: I was standing sideways, perpendicular to her.  I was not committing to the conversation at all – I was poised to leave!  I realized that – with the party about to end – the restless part of me was wondering who else I ought to see before I would go home.

I decided to let go of the restlessness and commit to Victoria – and to try one more experiment in discovering why this other person and I were having this encounter.  The answer didn’t take more than a minute to reveal itself.  I can’t trace back how we got there, but Victoria said that she was interested in the Asheville Movement Collective (AMC) “Dance Church” – the free-form improvisational dancing to which I am so passionately committed.  This gave me a chance to really ignite over a topic, which was big fun because Victoria was really interested.  I know from lots of experience that coming to AMC can change people’s lives – has mine – so it’s a lot of fun offering it to people.  And if Victoria never comes or comes and doesn’t like it, we had a conversation that connected us in a fun way and she spent some time thinking about her own creativity and her inner dancer.

Dance is one of my favorite ways to express my creative self, but each of these three people had given me a peek at their creative soul.

Dance is one of my favorite ways to express my creative self, but each of these three people had given me a peek at their creative soul.

I had three experiences in under two hours where what could have been routine conversations with regular people left me instead seeing stars.

“Bring on the cash!” (and the kale)

Yesterday, based on an experience at my Friday evening dance, I got aroused around mindfulness – especially as applied to cashiering.  Having been off on my cash once last week, my rallying cry became, “When the cash comes out, the chatter stops – focus on the money!”)  I put my “Cash only” mindfulness sign right in my cash drawer, where I would see it every time I dealt with cash.  (This did not guarantee that I would always pay attention to it.  Like all the mindfulness props I use, it would eventually go into background.)

Show me the money! Nothing gets past me!

Show me the money! Nothing gets past me!

I had thought that mindfulness of the groceries would for now take a back seat to mindfulness of the money, but I quickly found that they worked well together – that paying attention to the groceries helped me to pay attention to the cash.  And I was carrying a real sorrow about how relatively mindless I had been at the dance the previous evening.  I couldn’t shake the memory of the last piece of music – haunting bells and chimes – which pretty much flaked everybody else out and which I really didn’t hear because I was composing yesterday’s blog post.  Today I was hungry to be in the present moment.

I discovered several things about the groceries:

  • Produce was the best fodder for mindfulness practice. The color, the texture, the different weights.  It’s alive!  The source of life.  Great.
  • The dill today seemed an unusually dark green.
  • If you look close enough, flat parsley (Italian parsley) really is clearly distinguishable from cilantro – and it’s prettier.
  • Grapes are great.  All those little bumps.  Fascinating – and so satisfying to run my hands over.  I hoped this lady didn’t notice or mind me lightly resting my hand on her bag of grapes.
  • I adore our “Holiday” grapes – boy are they succulent!  I made a strategic choice that I could get away with asking this young woman, “Could you please take out one of your grapes and give it to me?” Then I popped it in my mouth and said, “Man that’s great!”  She adored it, but that will never go in any manual of good cashier techniques.
In the right state of mindfulness, grapes are a gas to touch.  Holiday grapes - which look pretty much like these, only fatter - can be orgasmic to eat, worth the risk of the customer saying that they actually don't want to give you one.

In the right state of mindfulness, grapes are a gas to touch. Holiday grapes – which look pretty much like these, only fatter – can be orgasmic to eat, worth the risk of the customer saying that they actually don’t want to give you one.

  • Cans are also pretty cool – the hardness, the heft.  Satisfying to handle.

All in all, a great shift – facilitated by the fact that I have shifted from depression to a little bit of mania.  Now the issue is to keep my feet on the ground – and mindfulness is the perfect tool.

“Shut up and dance!”

Last night it looked like, after twelve days depressed, my depression was shifting.  This morning I was right back in the crapper, but this afternoon my mood was rising – and I decided to risk it and go to my Friday night ecstatic dance.  When I’m up, I adore this free-form improvisational dancing; when I’m depressed I hate it.

I had a good time during the warm-up and it was clear that I was going to have a good dance.  After the opening circle, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to write a blog post about dancing?  I’ve been writing about cashiering and about bipolar disorder – let’s write about a fun topic, dancing.”

And a voice in me screamed “No!! Don’t spend the next hour on the dance floor thinking about what you’re going to write about it!  Just shut up and dance!!”

Nothing I do on the dance floor looks like this, but on a good night some of what I do is exciting to watch - especially when I can turn my mind off and just dance.

Nothing I do on the dance floor looks like this, but on a good night some of what I do is exciting to watch – especially when I can turn my mind off and just dance.

And I had some luck doing that. (I really am very mental.)  One set of thoughts that came right away and I felt fine about went, “How shall I apply this mindfulness/not thinking principle to the cashier dance floor?” The answer was clear and immediate.  One day last week I was off on my cash at the end of the day.  This is not good for a cashier.  A previous time when I was off, in a different grocery store, my boss gave me some very sage advice: “You’re good with the customers – you have great conversations with them.  But when the money comes out the chatter has to stop – only focus on the money.  Then you can finish your conversation when your money is straight.”  I may have to apologize to a customer for interrupting our conversation – “Give me a second to take care of this money, then we can finish talking.” They’ll understand – they want you to get their money right.  I will put a sign on my cash register saying “Cash only” to remind myself of my intent.

Cashiering groceries begs for mindfulness practice: stilling the mind by focusing only on the colors, the texture, the weight.  It's food!  The source of life.  And still I forget.  For right now,  I'll pay attention to the food the best I can, but focus especially on mindfulness of the money.

Cashiering groceries begs for mindfulness practice: stilling the mind by focusing only on the colors, the texture, the weight. It’s food! The source of life. And still I forget. For right now, I’ll pay attention to the food the best I can, but focus especially on mindfulness of the money.

You may need to come up with a different mindfulness break for your job, but I bet you can.

One other little glimpse of the dance floor, from my dance with sweet Mary.  How differently can you dance from each other and still be dancing together?  On the dance floor and in my relationships, I want some times when you are moving sensuously in rhythm, effortlessly mirroring each other’s movements – like Darlene and I did tonight – and other times when we go way out into our unique, quirky self-expression, yet still know that in some intuitive way we are creating something together.

“Don’t be sure…”

Mostly this blog will be about my work at the grocery store, but some other incidents just beg to be written about.

Ecstatic dancers celebrating their feet

Ecstatic dancers celebrating their feet

I do ecstatic dancing every Sunday morning.  We hang our coats and miscellaneous items on coat racks outside of the dance hall.  There are volunteers positioned right next to the coat racks, it’s a real honest group of people – and mostly we all feel fine leaving pretty much anything out there.  I routinely leave my watch, phone, wallet hanging in my street pants or coat pockets.  This morning I was wearing a shoulder bag (“man bag”) and had all those things in it.  I hung it from the same coat hanger as my coat.

When I got out to the car, I realized that I had taken my coat but left the bag behind.  I schlepped the half-block back to the Masonic Temple, where the dances are held, and methodically looked at all the coat hangers from several in front of where mine would have been to several behind.  No bag.  I had finished the dance in a great mood – and this good mood was mostly sticking with me, in spite of some frustration and just a little bit of anxiety about where was my bag.  I patiently looked on the floor under the coat rack – and in a couple of other spots where it didn’t make sense that I would have taken it, like where I put my shoes on.  No luck.  I must have taken it out to the car.

Another trip back out to the car and it definitely wasn’t there – so back to the Masonic Temple.  Nobody ever steals things in this group – but there was that time, three years ago, when Michael’s wallet and iPhone were stolen.  I’m getting a little more anxious.  This time as I come through the door, my volunteer friends at the welcome table start to tease me about all the back and forth.  I confide my predicament to them – and my building frustration and anxiety.  Sweet Leslie, a pretty, slender blonde woman in her 5o’s (very interesting person, terrific dancer) says “Show me where you had it.”  I follow her over to the coat rack, saying “I looked all through there – looked under all the hanging coats, everywhere.”  “Yeah, but basically where was it.”  And in less than 30 seconds she finds it – hanging from one of the empty hangers, where I felt sure I would see it if it was there.

I used to study meditation with Thich Nhat Hanh, an extremely holy teacher of Zen Buddhism – who is right now apparently dying.  He is on my mind.  Thay (“teacher” – what his students call him) used to entreat us not to be sure about things.  “Which way is up?”, he once asked us.  When we all pointed up (as we understood it), he said “Our friends in China would not agree.”

ThichNhat Hanh with Martin Luther King

ThichNhat Hanh with Martin Luther King

I was sure that my bag was no longer hanging on the coat rack.  How can my life be different if I don’t go around being sure of things?  How might this soften my rigidities, leave me open to more possibilities – easier to deal with, to live with.  Easier to be with for myself.  Thay, thanks.  I’m sure I love you.  I’m sure that you are an amazing man.  I think you are our greatest living spiritual teacher, though I guess I can’t be sure about that.  It feels to me like this world will be a more empty, sadder place with you gone – but I’m pretty sure you would encourage me to not be so sure about that.